Reflection: Is Real Life Rubbish?

  • Canon Pat Browne
  • (Updated )

Lent has now begun. The word Lent means lengthening. The days are getting longer. The light is moving more and more into our world and pushing the darkness of winter away. Spiritually, Lent is about letting the Light which is Christ come more and more into our lives. Letting him drive out all darkness from us.

A few weeks ago I was in an art gallery at an exhibition of contemporary art. I have never been a huge fan. So much of it as far as I could see is just rubbish. There was one exhibit which caught my eye and I haven't been able to forget. It was literally a pile of rubbish in a corner of a room - an empty coke can, a half-used toilet roll, a dirty paint-brush, bits of wood, a ball of twine. An empty paint tin. You get the picture. It looked a mess.

What made it special and very memorable was - that when you shed a light on it all from a particular angle it cast a shadow of two perfectly formed people sitting with their backs to each other. It was magical.

The asking price as it was going to auction was £18,000 to £22,000. It was called Real Life is Rubbish!

It came flooding back into my mind last Wednesday as the people came to church and each one of us was daubed on our forehead with ashes and told you are dust and to dust you will return.

Yes we are made from the dust of the earth - rubbish!

Yet a few moments later on in that same Ash Wednesday Mass we came up again to be given the gift of Jesus himself through whom this world was made, and we were taken into his life as brothers and sisters. Our Faith telling us, now you have been raised to a new dignity as the sons and daughters of God.

So going back to the art exhibit - Is Real Life Rubbish? What makes it so for some people? I have been thinking a lot about this. The shadow that the pile of rubbish cast so beautifully on the wall had the two people sitting with their backs to each other. They were not looking at each other. Each one seemed lost in their own thoughts. There was no communication between them. Each one seemed isolated from the other. Lonely. Alone.

Isolation is a rubbish life.

It would have been so easy for the artist to make it different. To rearrange the rubbish so that the shadow cast would have them turned around, looking at each other, sharing and communicating.

Lent is about asking us to turn around - to look at each other and see each other. To look at God and see him in the places where is waiting to be found.

So much of the time we are looking but not seeing. We are locked into our own introverted worlds - even with the people we are living with. We don't see them. We don't know them. And that is sad when it is happening between those who have been married for years or between parents and children. You can be in a family and feel very alone.

The word we have for this turning around and looking and really seeing is reconciliation. To Reconcile comes from the Latin word Cilia. Cilia means eyelashes. Look so closely and really that you are looking the person in the eye. You are both eyelashes to eyelashes.

Not being able to look at someone is a sign there is something wrong. Lent is asking us to put that right. Be reconciled to God. Be reconciled to each other.

You may not even have fallen out. But you are not relating. You are not looking at the people you say you love…and when that happens it seems like you don't care. My friend in South Africa tells me the Zulu greeting Sawubona means "I see you". I see your personality. I see your humanity. I see your dignity and respect.

Now I have some suggestions what we could do for Lent. Not so much give things up as take things on. As a couple you are years together. When did you last go out on a date - just the two of you? Courting is not something that should only happen before people settle down together but even more so when they have been together a long time. Courtship is finding out what pleases the other in order that I might do so. That should never stop. So find time for each other again. Go out for a meal together. Look at each other across a table at a meal and see the other person. Really see them and know them again.

The same with God. Make time for him in every day. Make a resolution that by the time you go to bed at night during this Lent, it will not have been a God-less day. You will have consciously brought him into the day somehow. Identify a time when you are on your own in the day and make that God's time. It might have to be when you are in the shower. Or walking to work or to get the tube. But bring God into the day. And really "See" the poor as well.

When we do these things we find that life is not rubbish any more. Why? Because we are letting the light of God's love shine to bring us together not just in shadows but in person. Let's do this for Lent.

The exhibit sold by the way, for $75,000 dollar in the end. I can see why.

(Canon Pat Browne, gave this homily on the first Sunday of Lent at Holy Apostles, Pimlico.)

Tags: Lent, Canon Pat Browne, Rubbish

We Need Your Support

ICN aims to provide speedy and accurate news coverage of all subjects of interest to Catholics and the wider Christian community. As our audience increases - so do our costs. We need your help to continue this work.

Please support our journalism by donating today.